Are you interested in growing lavender commercially or in your home garden?

Maybe you find yourself 'called' to creating a cottage garden reminiscent of the one your grandmother planted and enjoyed with you in your childhood. Or perhaps, you're already on the way to building a medicinal herbal patch and just want to find out more. 

Whatever the reason, now is the time to plant some of your own. To get started on the basics, let's find out what it looks like and where it likes to grow.

Lavender fields(110048)Credit: User:hogg / morgueFile

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What does English Lavender look like?

English Lavender (or Lavandula angustifolia – its botanical name) is a historical and hardy perennial with a shallow root system. It is upright in its growth habit and shrub-like in its appearance. 

Rather than having a trunk, it features a network of rigid, woody, flaky grey-brown branches. It reaches a height of 1 metre, with a width of 1.2 metres. The leaves of this Lavandula species are narrow and grey-green coloured. Approximately 50mm in length, they are linear-lanceolate in shape and have smooth leaf margins.

Its flowers are purple-blue in color and made up of many tiny flowers grouped in whorls. These blooms are highly perfumed and appear during the summer months on long unbranched stems, or ‘spikes’, that can grow up to approximately 130mm high.

2)  How is English Lavender best cultivated?

It is a herb best cultivated in full sun and does well in dry, neutral-alkaline soils. Soil fertility is not of high importance when it comes to growing this plant – it can grow satisfactorily even in poor soils. However, excellent drainage is required as they dislike water-logged sites.

It is an easy plant to grow, provided there is adequate light, heat and dryness. It does not tolerate humidity and an open position for planting is essential to reduce the risk of fungal attack.

It is possible to propagate Lavandula angustifolia from cuttings taken in Spring or Autumn, or grow from seed. Plant spacings are usually about 70cm apart. The most common form of planting arrangement is in hedges, whether within informal gardens, or across fields for commercial production.

Pruning is generally carried out after flowering, and this helps to promote new growth and remove any old flower heads. Once established and cared for, these plants can live up to 10 to 15 years.

Dried lavender flowersCredit: User:kokabella / morgueFile

3)  What are the most popular types to grow?

English Lavender (L. angustifolia) is regarded as the most significant species to be grown commercially, although L. x intermedia (Lavadin) is widely planted as well. Different cultivars are mainly selected dependent on factors such as height, colour, form, scent, time of flowering, yield and their resistance to diseases.

Aside from Lavandula angustifolia, there are several other common lavenders that are just as easy to grow in your home garden too. These include French Lavender (Lavandula dentata), Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and cultivars such as 'Major' and 'Hidcote'.

4)  Why do people grow English Lavender commercially?

People choose to grow this aromatic herb on a commercial basis because of the increasing demand for its essential oil. It is not as labor intensive as other types of horticulture, eg rose or lily production, and its therapeutic qualities and active constituents greatly benefit herbal medicine and the cosmetics industry.

English Lavender has become a popular crop and is now planted in many parts of the world, including Australia and New Zealand. Lavender farming is also conducted in Norfolk, England; parts of Japan and Washington state in the USA.

Various species of lavender, seen at Sault, FranceCredit: Ross Sussbrich / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 license

5)  How are English Lavender flowers harvested?

English Lavender flowers are harvested either mechanically or by hand, best using a sickle, serrated knife or hedge trimmer. Harvesting takes place on mornings when the weather is dry and sunny with no dew fall. This is usually in late December and early January for New Zealand growers, before the flowers open, or middle of the year for growers in the northern hemisphere. Drying should be below 35ºC.

6)  What is the most popular place in the world for English Lavender?

Provence, France remains to be the traditional centre for growing English Lavender
and the plants fill large open fields in the region with their aroma and bright purple colour in summer time.

The lavender industry also is a source of tourism revenue with an established trail in France  – the Route de Lavende – giving visitors the opportunity to tour lavender farms, shop for products and enjoy annual festivals celebrating lavender. 

Lavender for sale in San Francisco Farmers MarketCredit: User:Aviad2001 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 license

7) What is so special about lavender from Provence?

Despite its name, English Lavender is native to southern France. It grows well on the high rocky hillsides and the essential oil produced from the plants that grow there is of a very fine quality. Its value is therefore taken very seriously. 

“The genuine essential oil of lavender originating from Haute-Provence is protected by an ‘Apellation d’Origine Controleé’ which guarantees that the oil comes from a minimum altitude of 800 metres, that it is associated with the departments of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence,  Hautes-Alpes, Drome & Vancluse, and has passed standard quality control tests.” (McLeod, p. 85)

After the flowers are distilled and left to mature for several months and bottled, the resulting essential oil is sent to buyers in Europe and the USA, who require true quality oil. “Aromatherapists, perfumery companies, and buyers of lavender products demand authentic lavender essential oil with its wonderful fragrance complexity and remarkable range of medicinal uses.” (McLeod, p. 80)

8)  Why is English Lavender so good to grow?

In the garden as well as in the fields, English Lavender is loved by insects, from bees to butterflies, and the people who grow them. A herb that can be found in a multitude of healing remedies – from tinctures, infusions, fluid extracts, to distilled water and essential oil, it is also reputed to make good honey.

English Lavender flowers are extremely versatile – they bring beauty and scent to your garden, promote relaxation and good health, and can even be added to your cooking! Whether you're growing lavender as an ingredient for scones, biscuits or shortbread you've baked (or ice-cream you've made!), English Lavender is worth growing anywhere and everywhere!

Next article: History of English Lavender